Cheltenham Festival 2018 – the less good bits

Yesterday I talked about the many good things at this year’s festival. With so much going on there’s bound to be some less good bits – some serious, some less so.

Let’s start with something that was really bad – the fall that Ruby Walsh endured on Al Boum Photo. So much of the initial pre-Festival hype focused on this man, just back from yet another bad injury. We instantly feared a repeat of the previous leg break, though more concrete news is still to follow later this week. You do wonder how many more bad injuries Ruby, or maybe more importantly his family and those closest to him can take.

Quickly moving onto something a little lighter. Even though the weather was generally much better than forecast during the days, plenty of people still felt the need to sport scarves in the colours of either their favourite horses (or owners) or worse still bookmakers.  I’ve never got my head around the idea of wearing a scarf to celebrate Rich Ricci or JP McManus or those horrible Betfair scarves which get everywhere, but year on year they seem to multiply. Perhaps I’m not up with the times though to be fair I’m not sure I saw anyone go for the tweed and Gigginstown scarf crossover.

Talking of the Betfair scarves, given away by the bucket load on the walk up to the course, Cheltenham still suffers from the problem of touts. It feels a bit like this scene in the movie Airplane when the captain enters the airport and gets assailed by countless people collecting for a range of crackpot causes. It is impossible to walk up to Cheltenham (in whichever direction) without what feels like an ever increasing number of not so friendly people trying to “buy or sell”. Why the course and the police can’t do more than signage and PA announcements I don’t know.

Turning back to the racing, I’ve got to mention the going. My understanding of heavy going, is that it is the type of ground which leads to freakish results, horses finishing in exaggerated intervals and the ‘good ground’ horses being disadvantaged. But this was heavy going 2018, where despite everything the drainage still does a remarkable job. I’m not sure that the ground can really be an excuse. Perhaps this was best shown in the Ryanair Chase as supposed good ground horse Balko des Flos cruised home, thrashing Un De Sceaux who was meant to relish the softer ground. Many of the winners were simply the best horses in the race. That said, in the Gold Cup itself, the ground probably did help the winner to outstay the runner up in a way that might have been more difficult in faster conditions. Overall though I’m not having that the ground was that significant.

All the rain did mean that parking was difficult. In spite of my better judgement I parked in a grass car park on the Tuesday and sure enough got stuck in the mud, leading to 30 minutes of fun and games as we tried to work out how to get out. Hard standing parking well away from the course the other two days meant long walks in –  good for the steps I suppose.

More seriously I’ve never been one to complain much about use of the whip. I appreciate that the times call for tough measures but the more I think about it the more it is clear something is not right. Jockeys really don’t seem to care too much about copping a whip ban and a fine if it means winning a big race. But can it be right for Patrick Mullins to win the 4 mile NH Chase on Rathvinden, beating Ms Parfois after a protracted duel from the final fence, with Mullins getting a 6 day ban and the jockey on the second, Will Biddick, staying within the rules but losing by just 1/2 length? Who’s to say that breaking the rules didn’t make the difference between winning and losing? I don’t know what the solution is but this does seem to be a case where breaking the rules is a good thing and that can’t be right.  By the way for full disclosure I did back Ms Parfois.

Richard Johnson also got a ban and fine (of over £6 grand) for breaking the whip rules on Native River in the Gold Cup but it’s less likely that made the difference. Or is it?

Now to be really controversial. I can’t have this thing that the real Douvan is back. This seems to be the message coming out of the Champion Chase, that he was bowling along in front jumping brilliantly before coming down at the top of the hill. How can anyone say what would have happened so far out, especially against a horse of Altior’s brilliance. And let’s remember the brilliant Douvan (the model we saw before Cheltenham 2017) had never fallen. I’d happily lay him in future in similar company as the hype seems to have kicked in already, but to me here is a horse who has now flopped in successive Champion Chases.

Otherwise always sad the horses who don’t make it to the Festival, the likes of Fountains Windfall, Thistlecrack, Sizing John, Sceau Royal and We Have A Dream to name a few off the top of my head. It was a shame to see the likes of Cue Card, Faugheen, Apple’s Jade and Yorkhill run so poorly and it was a great shame to see the six horses who didn’t come back at all.

Always annoying getting beat a nose (Coral Cup).

And the Mares novice hurdle. Really?

Finally am I alone in thinking the Cheltenham preview circuit has gone crazy. So many events, so many tips, so much hype, so much nonsense. But we’ll be back next year. Only 51 weeks to go.

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